Are "Orange County" and "Ethics Reform" Mutually Exclusive? Kick It Around Wednesday

Would you buy an ethics commission from this board chairman?
Would you buy an ethics commission from this board chairman?
Christopher Victorio/OC Weekly

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer hosts a roundtable discussion in Irvine Wednesday afternoon that is either part of genuine, much needed ethics reform or a continuation of a charade pulled on county voters last year.

The seeds for the "Roundtable Discussion on the Future of Ethics in Orange County" were actually sewn in early 2014, when the county grand jury called for the creation of an ethics commission because District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' office--itself the source of alleged ethical lapses--does not prosecute political corruption much.

And so, supervisors Spitzer and Shawn Nelson authored--and they joined the other three supes in supporting--Measure E, which asked voters to "Authorize Ethics Commission to Enforce County Campaign Finance Rules." It passed in November by an overwhelming 56.6 percent to 43.4 percent.

But if that ballot language made Orange Countians think they approved the formation of an ethics commission here, think again. Measure E actually authorized the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which is based way up there on J Street in Sacramento, to enforce Orange County's stringent campaign finance ordinance TINCUP (Time Is Now, Clean Up Politics), which voters approved in June of 1978.

Jennifer Muir, assistant general manager for the Orange County Employees Association, called Measure E "misleading," pointing out the FPPC is not an ethics commission. Meanwhile, TINCUP author and longtime county watchdog Shirley Grindle told the Voice of OC, "Another sneaky maneuver on the part of this Board." Both maintain the grand jury wanted a locally based ethics panel.

But Nelson has said what he does not want to see is a non-elected panel with the power of the DA's office. And so we get Measure E and the negotiation to have Orange County campaign finance matters weighed by a non-elected commission (FPCC members are appointed by the governor and other state office-holders) that meets 416 miles away.

Something to think about as Professor Stephen J. Stambough, chairman of the Division of Politics, Administration & Justice at Cal State Fullerton, moderates the Roundtable Discussion on the Future of Ethics in Orange County starting at 2 p.m. Wednesday at his university's satellite campus at 3 Banting, Irvine.

Spitzer's office says representatives of the FPPC, OC County Counsel's office, the district attorney's office and the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission have been invited to attend.

"At the forum, an overview regarding the current structure of ethics oversight will be addressed," reads the invite. "The public will be invited to participate in identifying issues of concern related to enforcement and possible solutions for improving the ethical culture of county elected officials in Orange."

"The voters are clearly not satisfied with the way campaign finance laws are currently enforced in Orange County," Spitzer says in the announcement. "There is clearly a mandate for change to the way TINCUP is enforced."

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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